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SOU fends of OIT

ASHLAND — Through one half of play, anyone who walked into Bob Riehm Arena without prior knowledge Saturday would have been hard-pressed to figure out which team was ranked No. 7 in the nation and which was unranked.

That's the way the men's basketball series has been over the years between Southern Oregon and Oregon Tech, and the latest matchup played out exactly like the nip-and-tuck battle it's been between the two.

Through 30 minutes, the lead changed hands 19 times and was tied on 11 other occasions.

But, as usually happens, the cream came rising to the top over the final 10 minutes and that allowed seventh-ranked Southern Oregon to pull away for an 86-74 victory in front of a sellout crowd.

The Raiders turned a tenuous 63-62 lead into a comfortable advantage behind an 8-0 run with 10 minutes to play and then knocked down their free throws at the end to secure their fifth straight win over their rivals from Klamath Falls.

"Doing it on our home floor in front of a crowd like this, man, it just feels sweet to beat a rival like that," said SOU senior point guard Jeff Bush, who had eight points, nine rebounds and four assists.

Southern Oregon improved to 17-4 overall and gained a key Cascade Collegiate Conference victory to improve to 6-3 in those standings. Oregon Tech, which was in search of the 999th win in Danny Miles' coaching career, fell short and dropped to 11-10 overall and 4-5 in CCC action.

"I thought we played 30 minutes of really solid basketball and then their bigs got to us," said Miles. "We were giving away four inches per man and it got to us. They're a very good team and you have to play a 40-minute game, and we just didn't do that."

"Southern's a very good team and they certainly deserved to win tonight," added the former Medford High standout. "They played a very good game."

Balance was the theme for both teams, with five Raiders scoring in double figures — led by Eric Thompson's 20 points — and four Owls doing likewise, but the game hinged on Oregon Tech's prowess from 3-point range. Oregon Tech connected on 4 of 12 shots from beyond the arc in a first half that ended with SOU up 43-42, but the Owls slipped considerably in the second half to finish 6-for-22 overall (27 percent).

Kyle Tedder and Tim Weber each had 13 points for SOU and the Raiders got 12 apiece from Dex Daum and Jordan West. For the Owls, ex-North Medford High standout Kyle Waits had 12 points, while Duncan Schramm had 14, Derek Evans 13 and Austen Flint 10.

"We just told ourselves in the locker room at halftime that we needed to buckle down on defense," said Bush. "We knew we were going to win the game on the defensive end. We knew they really could shoot it but if we could guard the 3-point line they would struggle scoring against us."

The Owls shot a blistering 52 percent (16-for-31) in the first half to maintain pace with the Raiders, but a concerted effort on the defensive end did just enough to keep OIT at bay. Oregon Tech shot 28-for-57 (49 percent) from the field for the game, while SOU was 27-for-60 (45 percent).

"We really felt like in the second half the shots were tougher," said SOU head coach Brian McDermott. "We were better defensively and they were contested a little bit more and we didn't give up the easy ones like we had in the first half."

The turning point came after OIT's Tanner Manselle scored inside with 10 minutes to play. SOU's Jacob Kaler was fouled going to the basket and knocked down a pair of free throws, then West scored off an assist from Weber. Tedder made a steal that led to him going 1-for-2 from the foul line.

After a turnover by Oregon Tech, Tedder drained a tough 3-pointer over Brandon Bautista to give SOU a 71-62 lead with 8:11 to play.

Schramm slowed the Raiders run with a pull-up jumper, but SOU began to flex its muscle inside on both ends of the court — resulting in another lull in scoring for the Owls while the home team went 6-for-8 from the foul line on shots by West and David Sturner.

Thompson scored inside with 2:52 to go to give SOU its largest lead at 80-68, and despite a last-gasp effort by the Owls, SOU was able to put the game away when Weber knocked down two free throws and Thompson went 4-for-4 from the charity stripe in the final minute.

"I was proud of the kids," said Miles. "I thought we competed hard and came over and gave them a good run. We've got nine to go and I told the kids, it doesn't matter if you come in sixth or third in the league, you play in the same game in the playoffs. We're awful young, but if we can get better we can be a factor."

The same could be said for a Raider group that certainly wasn't taking Oregon Tech lightly, they just showed tremendous resolve in getting the job done.

"We've actually played pretty well through the last couple weeks even though we've lost a few games," said McDermott. "We've lost them mainly because other teams have shot it really well and done some things against us, but we felt like this week in practice we worked on it and we got better."

One area of particular delight was in how his team allowed only five offensive rebounds by Oregon Tech, which had 31 boards overall. SOU had 14 of its 38 rebounds on the offensive end.

"In my experience in 18 years playing them, that's probably half the lowest total," said McDermott of OIT's offensive boards, "and that's a big, big key."

"Plus we were balanced out there," he added. "When we include everybody like that, then we're at our best and that's what happened tonight, we included everybody."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

Southern Oregon University's Jeff Bush goes in for a fastbreak layin during Saturday's game against Oregon Tech.